Sampurna Chattarji

Sampurna Chattarji is a poet, novelist, and translator with eight books to her credit. Born in Ethiopia in November 1970, Sampurna grew up in Darjeeling, graduated from New Delhi, and is now based in Mumbai. Her debut poetry collection, Sight May Strike You Blind, was published by the Sahitya Akademi (Indian Academy of Letters) in 2007 and reprinted in 2008. Sampurna’s poetry has been anthologised in 60 Indian Poets(Penguin); Both Sides of The Sky (NBT); We Speak in Changing Languages (Sahitya Akademi); Interior Decoration: poems by 54 women from 10 languages (Women Unlimited); Fulcrum (Fulcrum Poetry Press, US) and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (Bloodaxe, UK). Her 2004 translation of Sukumar Ray’s poetry and prose Abol Tabol: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray is now a Puffin Classic titled Wordygurdyboom! Sampurna’s most recent book for children is The Fried Frog and Other Funny Freaky Foodie Feisty Poems (Scholastic 2009). She is the author of two novels, Rupture (2009) and The Land of the Well (forthcoming 2011), both from HarperCollins.Absent Muses (Poetrywala, 2010) is her second poetry book. More about her work can be found at




Space Gulliver has gone.
I don’t miss her.

Then why does her going make me think of an evening in a hot northern town I erased from my biography, rarely said the name out loud, as if it were a curse, or a dirty family secret, the dust from the afternoon storm everywhere even with the windows barred, the floor a singeing tawa under my bare feet, barely fourteen, having shut myself up in the corner room to study, despite the heat, despite the fact that no one has told me to, despite my brilliant cousin, a scientist, visiting, who calls me, like no one else does, ‘tui’, despite chilled lime juice cordial, despite the fact that all around me cockroaches with enormous wings are flying towards the uncovered bulb above my head, monstrous, evil brown hard undying fear, despite the fact that any minute one of them may land on my back bent over my books in a cringe of revulsion and despair?



Rubidium is a woman she might have liked being.

Odd how the women from the poems keep chasing her through the gullies. Has she let them down? Acrostic, she called across to the long red hair, didn’t you like it? Intuition sucks, and who sees hyacinths anymore. She feels it is futile to argue. Which year do you live in, nineteen twenty-two? A little more spite and she will throw them off her tail. Rooms, rooms of her own. Virginia, Jacob, James. Why so Western? Why the men? Shuck it off. Live, leechlike. Here, take this sentence. A snake, a mongoose and a peacock. Happy? All true, even if it makes you laugh. She is covering up for covering up. One morning a baby monkey had tugged her shoelaces at the bus stop. She spoke to it calmly, it went away.

The house was open to the rain. No one thought of covering the stairs. The house saw a bent back moving backwards down the stairs, rag slowly moving. The house was a man standing at the top of the stairs, confusing morning for night. Eunuchs against the glass. Slippery yellow edible root. The house was new when they moved in. Limewashed walls shedding gently. It was better than the one before but worse than the next. Last riot, they burned it down. 



Behind the breeze the bonfire blazed. No time for tongue-twisters.

Grandfathers have a way of finding where the fish-shops are, even in a strange town, crossing fields, asking strangers, returning triumphant, the fish oil wobbling separately in a little plastic pouch.

Grandmothers have a way of knowing you are awake, of cooking strange flowers.

On no particular day, a line of vultures arrived to sit on the compound wall. Smokie was a band we listened to. All was not unbeautiful.



Miss Popular in a homemade frock. Clingfilming, jaywalking. So what if the ringers aren’t dead! Small meridian, the put-put-puttering squeal. Hail, tempo. Squeeze elbow knee and back into elbow back and knee. Not fit for goats. Last time she rode a rodeo was in a tea-truck. Try to imagine you are a picked, curled, fried and fermented leaf. Ignominious patri. Bookworm, fattening slowly, thickening out the world. The mut-mut-muttering formula that sees her through another test. Star pupil in the teacher’s eye. Fall, wish, shoot. These are the ways a girl survives. Nun in a dun sari. Grotto, gay. Carry in a sealed envelope the weal of trust. Amaretto, acerbic. Call nobody home. The tempo, the Matador. Skin a rotten place to hide in. A fist in the breast from a passing cyclist. Scar from the too-tight tie-ups. Lipserving, daydreaming.

What saved her?



Your sky travels towards me


I have been trying to outrun it, shifting location rapidly, bell-tower, syringe, locomotive, landfill, a vanished Syrian Christian eatery, Lebanon, cedar pencils, sackfuls of rice. Sometimes I trip in my eagerness to get away, Salamun, Sam Pitroda, sapodilla. If I travel fast enough from the detectives, savage, to the amulet, unread, I might have time to catch the next and the next, Hadron Collider, Right to Education, gas leak, hung parliament, sabotage, the Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Jia Zhang-Ke, exactly my age, not a wrinkle or a grey hair, says: I feel time is a tragic thing. I feel it too, compatriot, smoke rising in the public bath. In a Brooklyn flat a Chinese-American poet puts her baby to sleep. The Chinatown bus to Boston might take me far enough, to clam chowder, mussels steamed in milk. Oh but this is slowing me down, I can feel again the taste of it, this lingering will not do. I have been trying to translate two words for a month now, drunken god, Shiva’s Stupor, should I say blue-god, or just say Krishna, how will I ever get across the story of the snake goddess in the chamber of the new bride? Meanwhile, the clouds are coming, they have the same shape, texture, colour, terror is a cumulus, run.

When the landmass broke away from what would be India and travelled toward what would become Madagascar the small blind snakes went along.

That is the only explanation.